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Landslide provokes volcano fears in northern Peru 21 February 2010

Posted by admin in natural hazards, not-a-volcano, Peru.
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Peruvian news outlets are full of reports of a landslide in San Luis de Lucma district, Cutervo Province, which is in the northern Cajamarca Region of Peru. This is not a part of the country normally associated with volcanic activity (in Peru the active volcanoes are found in the far south), but local inhabitants apparently believed that a volcano was erupting and asked to be evacuated: local sources say up to 2000 people wanted to be moved out. Some news reports speak of an ‘explosion’ and dust clouds including ‘sulphur’:

The strange event occurred at approximately one in the afternoon, affecting about 20 hectares of farmland, where at the moment of the explosion there were people working their lands with their animals, who have been buried. The mayor of San Luis de Lucma, Santos Delgado Fernández, said that there were at least 100-150 victims after the blast, the majority residents of villages around the scene of the incident. ‘They have lost crops and animals’, he said. Local inhabitants said that after the explosion took place the area was transformed into a dust cloud, putting the health of hundreds of locals at risk through the emanation of smoke and sulphur that can cause asphyxiation.

Landslides are not uncommon in Peru and can be deadly, particularly in the rainy season (a fatal landslide occurred last month in the south). This area of northern Peru has no history of volcanic activity so the fears of a volcanic eruption are almost certainly the products of panic and a misunderstanding of the nature of the event. The local head of Civil Defence, Miguel Alva, is quoted as saying that this was a landslide, and that it is not uncommon for landslides to generate ‘a large cloud of smoke’. Similarly, the director of seismology at the Instituto Geofísico del Perú, Hernán Tavera, has affirmed that this was a landslide caused by recent rains and not a volcanic event: ‘There is no volcano in the country north of Ayacucho’. The blast and smell of sulphur, Tavera says, would have been caused by the disruption of thermal springs in the area of the landslide.

The landslide has disrupted local water supplies and affected a nearby hydroelectric plant. Around 300 people were affected by the event, and latest reports say that eight people are missing and five houses were buried.

The Volcanism Blog